Many of us are spending more time at home than ever before. While this comes with some silver linings—um, more time to bake bread?—it also means we’re seeing (and hearing) our neighbors more than usual. And this leads to all kinds of discoveries. Did you really need to know all about your upstairs neighbor’s love of high-impact workouts?
“Being home more under such stressful times, there has been increased day-to-day contact, which isn’t always easy,” says Myka Meier, author of “Modern Etiquette Made Easy.” “Being home more means remembering to be respectful of any actions that may affect our neighbors.”
Found yourself in a heated situation with a neighbor? But wait a minute—maybe you’ve started wondering if you’re the one being annoying. Whoa. Heed this advice from etiquette experts on the do’s and don’ts of being neighborly during a pandemic.
Don’t: Disregard boundaries
With so many people staying home all day long, our personal space has become extra valuable. If you live in a single-family home, make sure your tree limbs aren’t encroaching on your neighbor’s lawn. If you have a car, be sure to park in your own spot. If you have kids or pets, make sure they know where they can and can’t play.
“It’s just about being courteous,” says Gottsman. “It’s all of the things we should be doing anyways.”
Do: Keep an eye on your animals
“Pets can be a bone of contention,” says etiquette expert Lisa Grotts, aka the Golden Rules Gal. “When pets do something on someone else’s property, make sure you take ownership and apologize.”
That means making sure your dog doesn’t wander onto the neighbor’s lawn to do its business; use a fence or leash to keep pets on your property. If your dogs start barking, don’t leave them outside all day. It’s not only an annoyance to your neighbors, but, as the weather heats up, your furry friends might need to come in for their health.
“Be attentive to your animals,” Gottsman says. “Don’t throw your dogs or cats out there without any water, because they are going to be barking and feeling uncomfortable.”
Don’t: Mow the lawn at odd hours
Avoid noisy outdoor maintenance at hours when the average person would be sleeping. Be mindful of what time you’re mowing the lawn, using a leaf or snow blower, or doing other tasks that could disrupt the neighbors.
If you live somewhere with a neighborhood association, it might designate a time frame for when these activities are allowed, Gottsman says. But ultimately, as long as you’re avoiding loud tasks at extremely early or late hours, you don’t need to overthink it.
“You’ve got to mow the lawn,” Gottsman says. “It may not be good at 9 for one neighbor and may not be good at 10 for another neighbor. We all have to adjust a bit and show some understanding for each other’s lifestyle.”
Do: Get ahead of potential conflicts
Don’t let things boil over with your neighbors if you can avoid it—it’s always better to get ahead of conflicts if you anticipate a sticky situation could arise.
“If you know your neighbor and you’re friendly with your neighbor, you might say, ‘I have a virtual meeting tomorrow at 9:30—may I ask you to keep the dogs quiet?’” Gottsman says.
If you’re worried about disruptions coming to your door during an important call or your toddler’s nap, post a note.
“I have delivery and I have people sometimes stop by, there’s all these uncertainties, so I put a handwritten sign on my door: ‘Kindly don’t knock or ring my doorbell,’” Gottsman says. “We have to leave indicators.”
Don’t: Pet that dog (unless you have permission)
As people continue to maintain social distance to prevent the spread of COVID-19, you might be wondering if it’s OK to get face time with your neighbors and their pets.
“When you’re walking by someone, since everyone is outside now, just smile and say hello,” Gottsman says. But don’t assume you can reach out to pet their dog—“we’re all hypervigilant right now,” Gottsman says.
Do: Be calm and collected when addressing problems
If you’re fuming after waking up from another one of your neighbor’s loud parties, don’t immediately march upstairs to yell and scream.
“Never react when you are boiling mad,” Meier says. “Take a few deep breaths or try to calm down, as you can’t undo a poison pen text or angry conversation.”
When you’re feeling calm and ready to talk with your neighbor, “try explaining how something is affecting you in a polite way, which hopefully your neighbor will have compassion for,” she advises.
Meier suggests calmly reasoning with difficult neighbors. For example, if noise is an issue, explain why.
“Say, ‘The baby’s crib is right under your room and she isn’t sleeping,’” Meier suggests. “Try to find a middle ground where possible.”
Don’t: Host a big, raucous party
Hosting a loud shindig has always been a surefire way to frustrate your neighbors, but in the age of social distancing, the annoyance—and the risks—are even greater.
“Large, indoor gatherings are an example of a home activity that should be avoided,” Grotts says. “Anything that involves crowds is a big no-no.”
Also be mindful of where you and your guests are smoking, whether that’s cigarettes or marijuana. Don’t smoke near neighbors’ windows or outdoor spaces, which could cause the smell to seep into other people’s living areas. Your condo or neighborhood association may also have its own rules about smoking, so be sure to understand what’s allowed before you light up.
Do: Be flexible and come up with creative solutions to problems
At the end of the day, some amount of neighborly noise and annoyance is inevitable. Be reasonable with your expectations for others. Your neighbors with a newborn baby certainly don’t want to annoy you, but there’s nothing they can do about the occasional crying you can hear in your office.
“It might be on your part to make changes,” Gottsman says. “It might be changing rooms or putting on some music.”